Scott Van Voorhis offers some important context about Andrea Estes’ departure from The Boston Globe. In his Contrarian Boston newsletter, Van Voorhis calls her work “compelling and consequential,” and observes that her reporting uncovered a kickback scheme that resulted in a federal prison term for former House Speaker Sal DiMasi and exposed the $300,000-plus salary of Methuen’s now-former police chief.
The current controversy involves two lengthy corrections the Globe published after an Estes-bylined story reported that nine top MBTA managers were working remotely. According to the corrections, the actual number was six, and there were other problems as well. Van Voorhis writes that “to pin the alleged mistakes in the story solely on Estes seems grossly unfair. Where was her editor? And with the prominent play the Globe gave to the story, there surely were other editors involved in at least reviewing the piece.”
Globe editor Nancy Barnes has told her staff that she’s “working to unravel all of this,” adding: “We will hold ourselves accountable for our mistakes because trust is so essential to us as journalists.”
Boston Globe editor Nancy Barnes has told her staff that the paper plans to offer an explanation about what went wrong with former reporter Andrea Estes’ story about MBTA managers who work remotely. Her email was passed along to me by a trusted source and closes with this:
Finally, I want to acknowledge the concerns individuals have raised about the multiple corrections in the recent MBTA story about executives living remotely. I am still working to unravel all of this and so there is not a lot I can say publicly for now except this: We will hold ourselves accountable for our mistakes because trust is so essential to us as journalists
This is good news and sends exactly the right message. Barnes took over for Brian McGrory just a few months ago, and this is her first public crisis. I look forward to reading the Globe’s account of what happened.
Update: Globe spokeswoman Heidi Flood confirmed this morning that Andrea Estes “no longer works at the Globe.” I have edited the headline to reflect that.
Update 2: Globe editor Nancy Barnes has told her staff that she’s working to unravel what went wrong.
Boston Globe reporter Andrea Estes, an investigative journalist whose recent error-riddled story about absentee managers at the MBTA led to a lengthy correction, has disappeared from the Globe’s online staff directory. You can still find her official Globe listing, though. She’s described as a “former reporter,” and her bio begins: “Estes was an investigative reporter specializing in government accountability.”
On Wednesday evening I sent an email to Globe spokeswoman Heidi Flood asking, “Has Andrea Estes left the Globe?” Flood’s response: “Thanks for reaching out. The company does not comment on personnel matters.” I also emailed Globe editor Nancy Barnes, who did not respond. I tried emailing Estes at her Globe address earlier this morning, and it bounced back.
It seems pretty clear that Estes is gone. And though no reason has been given, her most recent story, which led the Sunday paper on April 23, has proved to be an embarrassment for the Globe. The idea that some of the T’s leading executives were working virtually from distant places while bus drivers, subway operators and maintenance workers were putting themselves on the line every day was enraging. Here’s the heart of her story, which comes from a PDF of the print edition:
The MBTA is facing an unprecedented crisis of confidence in its service, punctuated by slow trains, endless delays, and gruesome accidents. Yet, many top T managers live far from the troubled system they’re trying to rescue and some are rarely seen in person by their employees. A Globe review has found that nine senior managers (including one who has left the agency) have a primary residence more than 100 miles from the nearest T station — and some much farther.
The story was later revised to cut that number from nine to six, and was appended with a lengthy correction:
Earlier versions of this story incorrectly reported that three MBTA managers live primarily in homes far from the T’s service area. Dennis Lytton, the deputy safety chief, has an apartment in Brighton and says he has not worked remotely since starting the job in February. Michele Stiehler, the T’s chief of paratransit, lives in Boston and walks to work. Jennifer Tabakin, who oversees the T’s South Coast Rail project, also has a home in Boston within walking distance of T headquarters. In addition, the story incorrectly reported that Ronald Ester’s “primary residence” is in Chicago; Ester said he considers his home in Massachusetts as his primary residence.
Estes’ story led to an editorial that has now also been appended with a correction. That correction includes a wrinkle that doesn’t appear in the one attached to Estes’ article: “The original editorial also incorrectly stated where Dennis Lytton, an MBTA safety official, was when reached by reporters. He was in Boston.” Estes’ original story said, “When contacted by the Globe recently, Lytton, who makes $175,000 a year, said he was home in Los Angeles at the time.” That sentence was deleted from the revised version.
Reporters make mistakes. We’ve all had corrections appended to our work. But to level such a serious accusation against three MBTA managers by name and then have to retract it is unusual.
As for Flood’s comment that the Globe doesn’t comment on personnel matters, I would note that there have been a number of prominent situations in the past when people have been fired, pushed into leaving or suspended, and the paper has gone into considerable detail in telling its audience what happened. We all know who they are, and I’m not going to drag their names into this.
I wrote last week that the Globe should have an ombudsman — an in-house reader advocate paid to look into fiascoes like this and write about them. At one time, many news outlets, including the Globe, had such a person on their staffs, but that’s pretty rare these days.
Even in the absence of an ombudsman, though, the Globe still owes us an explanation of what went wrong, and it should be published in a prominent spot.
There was a time when many major news organizations, including The Boston Globe, had an ombudsman — a reader advocate who would report on the inside workings of the newsroom when problems arose.
Well, I’d really like to know what happened with the Globe’s reporting on MBTA managers who live far from Boston. The story was written by Andrea Estes and led Sunday’s print edition. It told a pretty compelling tale of inequity, with subway operators, bus drivers, maintenance workers and others required to show up to work every day while some of the agency’s top executives checked in from distant locales.
Trouble is, the story has now been appended with this:
Correction: Earlier versions of this story incorrectly reported that three MBTA managers live primarily in homes far from the T’s service area. Dennis Lytton, the deputy safety chief, has an apartment in Brighton and says he has not worked remotely since starting the job in February. Michele Stiehler, the T’s chief of paratransit, lives in Boston and walks to work. Jennifer Tabakin, who oversees the T’s South Coast Rail project, also has a home in Boston within walking distance of T headquarters.
Estes is a fine reporter who’s done a lot of important work, and it does appear that absentee executives really are a problem at the MBTA — but not these three. I think the Globe owes us an explanation. An ombudsman could have told that story.
Phillip Eng, the new head of the MBTA, is going to quickly find out that it’s not just the big things, it’s the little things, too.
Earlier today I made the mile-and-a-half walk from my house to the new, underused Tufts Green Line station. I’d had a big cup of coffee before I left the house, but I figured I could use one of the two restrooms that are right next to the ticket machine. They were locked.
It wasn’t that long ago that they were unlocked. Then, the last time I needed to use one, an employee saw me and unlocked it so I could use it. Remembering that, I knocked on the door of the employees’ lounge. Oh, those aren’t for the public, I was told. What?
Then I saw one of the doors open, so I tried to enter. An employee grabbed the door and prevented me from using it. I let it go — I didn’t want to get charged with assault. Fortunately my bladder calmed down, though I didn’t.
What is this crap? Davis Square has public restrooms. It’s a much more crowded station, and they can get kind of disgusting. But when you gotta go, you gotta go. By contrast, Tufts is a clean, underutilized station with two restrooms, and you can’t use them.
The MBTA’s contempt for the riding public knows no bounds.
I asked ChatGPT to write a 300-word column about the MBTA in the voice of Herman Melville, and it gave me the single best description of the troubled public transportation system ever:
It is a system that demands both patience and cunning, for one must be quick of foot and mind to catch the right train, or else suffer the indignity of waiting upon a frigid platform for what seems an eternity.
Trolley ahoy! Hast seen the Green Line?
Update: I’ve removed the link to the full column, which I’m told doesn’t work for anyone but me. So here it is below:
Ah, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, what a grand and curious beast it is! A marvel of modernity, with its electric rails and clanging bells, carrying thousands of souls to and fro throughout the bustling metropolis of Boston. But also a beast with many heads, each bearing its own peculiarities and frustrations.
As I, Herman Melville, have had the occasion to travel upon this sprawling system of trains, buses, and subways, I cannot help but be struck by its contradictions. On the one hand, it is a great equalizer, bringing people of all classes and stations together in the common pursuit of transit. On the other, it is a labyrinthine maze, with its schedules and routes so convoluted that one might need a sextant and a compass to navigate them.
It is a system that demands both patience and cunning, for one must be quick of foot and mind to catch the right train, or else suffer the indignity of waiting upon a frigid platform for what seems an eternity. And yet, for all its idiosyncrasies and flaws, there is a certain romance to the MBTA, a sense of adventure that comes with exploring its many routes and stops.
I have traveled upon the Red Line, the Green Line, the Orange Line, and the Blue, each with its own distinct character and challenges. The Red Line, with its sleek trains and sweeping views of the city, is a joy to ride, though it can be overcrowded and prone to delays. The Green Line, with its jangling trolleys and labyrinthine routes, is a source of endless fascination, though it can be slow and unpredictable. The Orange Line, with its long stretches of underground tunnels and bustling stations, is a marvel of engineering, though it can be hot and stuffy in the summer months. And the Blue Line, with its sweeping views of the harbor and its ferries to the islands, is a delight to ride, though it can be crowded and prone to delays.
And yet, for all its charms and frustrations, the MBTA is an essential part of life in Boston, connecting people and places in a way that no other mode of transportation can. It is a beast that we must learn to love, even as we curse its many heads.
I didn’t have to come to Northeastern today, but I was excited to try the Green Line Extension, which made its grand debut on Monday. So here I am.
My ride began at the new Medford/Tufts station at Boston and College avenues. It’s a mile and a half from my house and it was c-o-l-d, so my wife dropped me off on her way to work. There are a couple of buses I could have taken, too, although they don’t run as often as they should.
I walked inside the shiny new station, downstairs to the platform and then onto a train. There was no place to pay either before or after boarding, so the handful of us who were riding from Medford got a free pass. I don’t know about the other five new stations, but obviously that’s not a viable business plan; I assume payment options will be coming soon. We sat there for a few minutes in the cold, with the doors open, and then pulled out at 7:27 a.m.
The ride was smooth and a lot zippier than I’m used to on the Green Line. We had a beautiful sunrise view of the Zakim Bridge as we crossed the channel before heading underground. Things began to bog down south of Science Park. The train finally got crowded at North Station, so I put on my mask. And then it was the usual slow roll the rest of the way.
We pulled in to Northeastern at 8:06. Thirty-nine minutes wasn’t bad at all, but it was closer to an hour when you add in getting to the station and then waiting for the train to start moving. I’ll probably stick with my usual commute — I’m a seven-minute walk from the West Medford commuter rail station, which gets me to North Station in 12 minutes. After that, I can take the Orange Line or the Green Line to campus depending on my mood and which comes first.
On the other hand, I’m teaching an evening class this fall, and the commuter rail rarely runs after rush hour. The Green Line may be an attractive alternative to paying for a Lyft.
Finally, a semi-unrelated observation: I couldn’t make out where the Somerville Community Path was, which struck me as odd. On rare occasions, I like to ride my bike to work, and this ought to be a better option than what’s available to me now. The path has been built out to Lechmere and runs along the tracks. I had hoped the path would be extended north to the Medford/Tufts station, but I don’t think that’s the case. From what I can tell, you’ll pick it up at Lowell Street in Somerville.
I got a look at the almost-ready Medford/Tufts MBTA station on the Green Line Extension during a walk through Medford, Somerville and Arlington on Saturday. After many delays, the station is scheduled to open Dec. 12. Trolleys that originate there will be part of the E Line, which I’m pretty excited about because it will run directly to Northeastern without my having to change trolleys.
It’s a mile and a half from our house, which is kind of a schlep when you’re trying to get to work. But it’s not a bad bike ride when it’s nice out and not dark, and there may be times when I can get a ride from my wife or daughter. Also of note: A bike path runs alongside the tracks into the city, which may make for a better ride to campus, something I like to do occasionally.
Now if only they’d extend it to northwest to Route 16. That was the original plan, but it fell victim to cost-cutting. Maybe someday.
My wonderful Northeastern intermediate reporting students have produced a terrific story on urban biking for The Scope, our School of Journalism’s digital publication covering issues related to social justice.
Here’s how we did it. Eleven of the 14 students interviewed experts, policymakers and ordinary cyclists, combining all of their notes onto one Google Doc. One student took photos. Two contributed research. Each of them wrote a story based on everyone’s notes. Finally, I pulled together an article from several of their stories.
The Boston Globe’s coverage of our public transportation crisis, already indispensable, rises to another level today with a report from Buenos Aires. Reporter Taylor Dolven finds that a system nearly as old as Greater Boston’s is far more reliable than ours, despite Argentina’s daunting economic problems. The reason: They take safety and maintenance seriously. The story as a whole is a revelation, but this jumped out:
The trains may run on time in Buenos Aires, but most public transit riders take the bus.
Buses on 92 routes that were stuck in car traffic a decade ago now cruise past the gridlock in bus-only lanes on eight main avenues, stretching some 38 miles in total. Bus stops on these corridors, called Metrobus, have roofs, lighting, seating, and sometimes countdown clocks, and the bus lanes are separated from car traffic with barriers.
The bus trip between two popular train terminals in the city used to take as long as an hour. Now it takes 30 minutes tops.
The MBTA could do much more with buses, by far the cheapest option for moving large numbers of people. Unlike rail, you don’t have to install tracks. Unlike rail, you can modify and add routes in response to changes in where people live and work. The key is to set aside bus-only lanes in many more places so that they can zip through as efficiently as subways and trolley cars. We’ve only begun to do that.
Yes, of course we need commuter rail, subways and trolleys. More than anything, though, we need to stop treating buses as an afterthought.